'Fast Eddie': Britain's most wanted fugitive

Eddie Maher pulled off one of Britain's most audacious bank heists. But after 20 years on the run, 'Fast Eddie' wasn't fast enough to outrun the law. But whatever happened to the stolen £1m?

"There are many places one might expect to find a notorious international fugitive with £1m of stolen money," says the Daily Mail. Ozark, Missouri a sprawling Bible Belt town in the US Midwest "isn't one of them". So it was unsurprising that local police found it hard to believe the extraordinary tale related to them by 22-year-old Jessica King. She claimed that her father-in-law known to everyone in town as the fat, balding man who installed their cable TV boxes was actually Fast Eddie' Maher, one of Britain's most wanted fugitives. She was right.

Maher had been on the run from British police since 1993, when he staged one of Britain's "most infamous bank heists", says The New York Times. "The crime was as carefully executed as the escape."

A former fireman and publican with substantial gambling debts, Maher, then 37, was the driver of a Securicor van making a routine delivery to a branch of Lloyds Bank in Felixstowe, Suffolk. While his colleague was in the bank, he drove off with 50 bags of cash in coins and notes. By the time the police found the vehicle, Eddie (having apparently switched cars twice) was long gone. He is believed to have boarded a flight to Boston where his partner, Deborah Brett, and their three-year-old son, Lee, were waiting for him.

A £100,000 reward brought no concrete information: the family had disappeared without trace. "Sightings were reported across Europe, but Maher's trail quickly went cold," said The Huffington Post. On the surface, Maher who, in America, sometimes took the alias Stephen King, but was latterly known as Mike appeared to enjoy "a comfortably middle-class life".

Neighbours described the family as "pleasant" and tightly knit. To throw off pursuers, the Mahers moved constantly between states and, by the time they settled in Ozark five years ago, showed few signs of wealth. Living in a drab housing complex, Maher worked as a broadband technician at a cable company; his wife cleaned apartments for extra income.

Ultimately, it was Maher's son Lee who proved his undoing. He couldn't help boasting about his father's past and told girlfriends including his estranged wife, Jessica that the family were fugitives. When Jessica met her father-in-law in December, she decided to go to the police. He grabbed her arm, reports The New York Times, and warned her to keep quiet. "I know you know," he told her. "I will kill you. I will bloody kill you."

When Maher was arrested, special agents said he appeared "relieved the running was over", says the Daily Mail. He's now in the local prison, too poor to pay for a lawyer, awaiting extradition proceedings. Last month, the Ipswich Star marked the start of Maher's 20th year on the run with an article concluding that, no matter how dead the trail, "the Mahers will never be safe, and will always be looking over their shoulders". Prophetic words.

What became of the stolen £1m?

"He gave it a good run," says Mark Schiefelbein in the Kansas City Star, "but not even Fast Eddie' could elude the law forever" perhaps demonstrating that there's no such thing as the "perfect crime". The legend of Fast Eddie has "never died out across the Atlantic" and his arrest may disappoint some in Britain, a country renowned for its "affection for bold thieves", from Ronnie Biggs onwards. "A lot of people thought he was some sort of hero," a retired police inspector said in a 2003 BBC retrospective on the crime. "It's a reflection of this society."

Maher's reputation as a Cockney diamond was polished by his wife a former civilian worker with the Essex police when she described him, after his arrest, as "a wonderful father and a wonderful husband [who] never hurt anybody", says The Huffington Post.

But other witnesses portray a controlling individual with "a stern demeanour and fondness for racial slurs", who "seemed to intimidate his family, particularly his doting wife", says AG Sulzberger in The New York Times. As one of his son's girlfriends observed: "He was the ruler of the house and I was scared of him. Anything he said would go."

"The £1m question" is what happened to the stolen cash, says Tom Leonard in the Daily Mail. Spread out over two decades, it would amount to $75,000 a year enough for a comfortable, though not extravagant lifestyle. Some witnesses report that the Mahers lost everything in the 2008 stockmarket crash and they certainly appear to have been "close to the breadline for years".

A neighbour in Ozark reports that they had been threatened by "some very bad people", suggesting that they had been forced by a criminal gang, also involved in the heist, to hand over the money. "That might explain quite a lot" including the mystery of how Fast Eddie managed to smuggle the 50 bags of missing money into America on a passenger plane.

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